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The ‘80s Strike Back: The Complete Story Behind Blood Dragon

The Plague from Hobo with a Shotgun

Hobos, Armored Minions, and Aussie Synth

Hobo with a Shotgun led Evans down a rewarding rabbit hole. In a previous chat with Polygon, Evans revealed that he was particularly infatuated with The Plague from Hobo with a Shotgun. The Plague are a pair of iron-clad, otherworldly mercenaries that dish out mayhem with blades and a noose-tethered grappling gun. These demons were first conceptualized in director Jason Eisener’s school notebooks, fueled by the same ‘80s adoration afflicting Evans. The Plague’s dread-inducing synth theme especially hit a nerve with Evans. Throughout Blood Dragon’s development, Eisener would evolve from inspiration into an informal advisor. 

A bomb Rex must dismantle

“I can’t quite remember how he got a hold of my number, but [Evans] called me and we talked for a while,” Eisener says. “We kind of hit it off. We just had the exact same inspirations and tastes and things. At first I just thought it was kind of a joke. It took maybe five or six phone calls with him before I really believed that this was actually somebody from Ubisoft. It was just hilarious talking to someone who is so enthusiastic about the same things, and I just thought, ‘This doesn’t seem right.’ I had never heard of anyone from the video game world who talks like Dean. Then they actually flew me up last summer to Montreal to hang out with everyone at Ubisoft and kind of go over everything, give ideas, go through the script, and talk to everyone in different departments about it. “

At one point during their unofficial collaboration, Eisener and Evans were planning a boss battle between Blood Dragon’s Rex Colt and The Plague. Due to time restraints, the reference to Eisener’s monsters was reduced. In the final version of Blood Dragon’s “Summon the Plague” mission, Rex steps through a portal into a world of crumbling castle walls and purple lightning, imagery evocative of The Plague’s lair in Hobo with a Shotgun.

Eisener got Evans in touch with Power Glove, the Australian composers behind The Plague’s theme, and the developer eagerly reached out to see if they were interested. The soundtrack ended up being the first completed element of Blood Dragon. Under Evans’ leadership, the finalized collection of electronic drones, driving beats, and adrenaline-pumping melodies would become required listening for his development team. 

A 360-degree peek at a 3D render of the evil Colonel Sloan

“I sent [Power Glove] a bunch of names of movies and soundtracks that I’m into,” Evans says. “I had a bit of a chat on the phone just to talk about pulses and drones. Man, honestly, in my time of working with composers and musicians, this was ridiculous. There were so many times on tracks that they sent over… no comments. We couldn’t give feedback on some of their first passes they sent back because they absolutely nailed it.”

Evans’ favorite track is “Omega Force,” which features a steady, John Carpenter-esque baseline, military drumrolls, and a slow, ominous build up. The group even remade The Plague’s theme from the film for the Hobo with a Shotgun-inspired Blood Dragon sequence.

“One of those glorious things about working with people who are into the same thing is they instantly click and get it,” Evans says. “You can talk about the tunnel scene in The Terminator and they’re like ‘Yup. Got it.’”

Michael Biehn (left) and Dean Evans (right) in a promotional video

Resurrecting a Hero

Speaking of The Terminator, Evans made another important connection with a star from the ‘80s film, Michael Biehn, during a day at the Fantasia Film Festival. Ubisoft was considering legends like Rocky IV’s Dolph Lundgren for the voice of reanimated cyborg solider Rex Colt, but an eccentric run-in with Biehn set fate in motion. Biehn, best known for battling Arnold Schwarzenegger as Kyle Reese in The Terminator and blasting xenomorphs as Corporal Hicks in Aliens, was holding a Q&A for his 2011 film The Victim.

“[Evans] didn’t ask a question as much as make a statement,” Biehn says. “He recalled that the first time he ever masturbated he was watching the sex scene in The Terminator. And then he said that he had recently masturbated to the sex scene in the movie that I had directed called The Victim. Everybody was I think a little stunned by it.”

After the brief, awkward exchange in front of the large crowd, Evans contacted Biehn’s wife, co-star, and business partner, Jennifer Blanc, to set up a meeting. He wanted Biehn to be the voice of Rex Colt. Blanc had to drag Biehn to meet Evans.

“The only other gaming experience that I had was I did a voice [Corporal Hicks] in the Aliens game that they made [Aliens: Colonial Marines],” Biehn says. “That wasn’t fun at all. I just didn’t really have any fun.

Michael Biehn's Corporal Hicks as he appears in Sega's Aliens: Colonial Marines

“It seemed kind of passionless. I think in movies, television, and the gaming world, you get some people that are really, really passionate, and some people that are just going through the paces. They think that because they have a brand name they’re going to get a hit game or hit movie out of it. That certainly was the situation on [Aliens: Colonial Marines].”

But Evans was different than Biehn’s past video game business partners. His affection for the era of Biehn’s heyday, knack for game development, and rapid-fire creativity drew him into the project.

“Dean is such an interesting and creative presence,” Biehn says. “He has such energy and such passion. One of the things that I really, really enjoy working still in this business is finding people that have that kind of passion.

“He was talking to me about the game and the fact that it was an ‘80s throwback, and there would be a lot of lines that were Arnold Schwarzenegger-like, that were [Sylvester] Stallone-like, Bruce Willis, myself. Those kind of lines, that kind of vibe, and the fact that it was going to be a throwback to the ‘80s was something that I thought was interesting. But really it was his passion, man. You just can’t say no to him.”

Biehn and Evans got to work recording Rex’s dialogue. Blood Dragon features a handful of slideshow-style cutscenes, complete with voice acting, but Biehn would mostly be delivering witty, satirical one-liners.

Concept art notes for Colonel Sloan

“It was awesome,” says Eisener, who grew up adoring Biehn’s work and previously met the actor at another film festival [see sidebar]. “Dean was doing all his voice work with Michael in L.A. He was just texting me back and forth and we were throwing lines, and he was like, ‘What do you wanna hear Michael Biehn say? Like, if you could give him anything?’ Late at night I was just texting him all these crazy one-liners and then he would send me like video clips of him filming Michael Biehn saying the stuff that I’m sending him.”

Rex Colt single-handedly wipes out an island of dragons and robotically enhanced grunts in Blood Dragon. But it’s not his first rodeo, and you can hear it when he speaks. 

“We wanted it not to be like my voice, not somebody that was somewhat fresh, somewhat interested in what he was doing,” Biehn says. “It was kind of like somebody that was old and done it 100 times. Done it 1,000 times. He was bored with it, bored with the whole situation, and angry. Cynical, really. We decided to go with a voice that sounded somewhat older than me.”

A close look at Colonel Sloan's cyborg enhancements

The result is a haggard, gravelly voice that delivers glib, snarky quips throughout the game. Sometimes these cheesy quotes poke fun at video game tropes like collecting items. “Great, got another one. What the f--- am I doing?” Other times the lines sound like they could be straight out of Commando or another ‘80s action flick – “This little piggy went to the morgue.”

Biehn made his name in an era filled with Schwarzenegger and Stallone one-liners, but he traditionally played a more stoic underdog. Something the macho Rex Colt is anything but.

“I don’t think of [Rex Colt] as being completely different,” Biehn says when comparing Blood Dragon’s hero to his past roles. “I think that there’s an inner dialogue that goes on in my character’s head when I play those stoic [movie] characters. I just don’t talk. I don’t say the things that I normally would say. Like ‘This is bulls---,’ or ‘This mission is bulls---,’ ‘I hate this,’ ‘I hate that,’ ‘F--- you,’ and all that kind of stuff, you know? I think I was basically playing the same character but I say the inner thoughts that I’m not allowed to say on film.”

Locking down an ‘80s legend like Michael Biehn was a huge get for Evans. However, the team still faced the daunting technical challenge of revamping the Far Cry 3 engine to reflect the retro aesthetic.

Another Unconventional Connection

Similar to Michael Biehn’s odd introduction to creative director Dean Evans, the movie star also met the influential Hobo with a Shotgun director in a memorable way. Two years ago, Biehn’s film The Victim and Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun were being shown in a double-feature at the Sitges Film Festival in Spain. Eisener was giving a spirited talk to the audience about how the best way to experience his film involves disrobing. To Eisener’s surprise, the actor took it to heart.

“Everyone’s cheering, and there’s a spotlight on me and I’m running down the aisle,” says Eisener. “And I just see this guy with his shirt off, with his arms, like, stuck out and I was like, ‘Who is that?’ I run up and it’s Michael Biehn! And so I rip my shirt off and we watch some movie with our shirts off together.”

“[Eisener] made some comment about getting naked and watching his movie or something like that,” Biehn says, thinking back on the viewing. “So everybody laughed and jumped up and he got down from the podium and started walking up the aisle. And I got up and took off my shirt and unbuckled my belt and started to pull my pants down. By the time he got to me I was half naked and he saw me. I think it just kind of stunned him, you know. He started laughing. He took his shirt off and sat down next to me and we watched his movie.”

Up next, building giant reptiles and creating Blood Dragon's retro brand

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